If you’re planning a trip to South East Asia, take note. An evolved form of malaria which is resistant to anti-malaria medication is spreading at an “alarming global rate,” according to scientists. The parasite was first documented in Cambodia but quickly migrated to other regions. Researchers predict mass casualties should the “super malaria” spread to Africa, where over 90 percent of cases occur.
This “super malaria” is more dangerous than the original malaria parasite, as it cannot be killed with the main anti-malaria drugs. According to the BBC, it was first reported in Cambodia, but quickly spread throughout parts of Thailand, Laos and later, Vietnam.
The team at the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok said there is a real concern the new malaria may be “untreatable.” Professor Arjen Dondorp, who heads the unit, said, “We think it is a serious threat. It is alarming that this strain is spreading so quickly through the whole region and we fear it can spread further [and eventually] jump to Africa.”
Each year, approximately 212 million people are affected with the parasite that is spread via blood-sucking mosquitos. Malaria is a major killer of children, especially in poverty-stricken locations. When one begins to notice symptoms of the sickness, the first line of treatment is artemisinin in combination with piperaquine. However, artemisinin is becoming less and less effective, as a letter, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, points out. The “super malaria” is now resistant to piperaquine, as well. The letter notes an “alarming rate of failure” with both treatments.
Dondorp said about one-third of the time, the treatment failed in Vietnam. In some areas of Cambodia, the failure rate was closer to 60 percent. In Africa, where 92 percent of malaria cases occur, the “super malaria” is expected to be disastrous. It’s now a race against the clock to prevent the blood-transmitted bug from reaching Africa. Said Dondorp, “We have to eliminate it before malaria becomes untreatable again and we see a lot of deaths. If I’m honest, I’m quite worried.”
“The spread of this malaria ‘superbug’ strain, resistant to the most effective drug we have, is alarming and has major implications for public health globally,” said Michel Chew, from the Welcome Trust medical research charity. “Around 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections, including malaria. If nothing is done, this could increase to millions of people every year by 2050.”
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